About Invasive Species in Virginia
What are invasive species?
Invasive species are non-native (a.k.a. alien, exotic, or nonindigenous) plants, animals, and diseases that cause or are likely to cause ecological and economic harm. For more info, check out the species profile page.
How did they get here?
Ever-increasing globalization and international trade activity have opened the floodgates for both intentional and accidental introductions of invasive species to Virginia from all over the world. Intentional introductions include ornamental plants for gardens, erosion control, food for both livestock and people, and pets. Accidental introductions can be “stowaways” in ship ballast water, hidden in shipping crates, mixed in with plant materials from other parts of the world, and “hitchhikers” on travelers’ clothes, luggage, and vehicles.
Why should you be concerned?
Invasive species spread aggressively and displace or destroy both native and commercially cultivated plants and animals. After development and habitat conversion, invasive species are considered to be the greatest threat to natural systems, agriculture and aquaculture. Annually, invasive species cost Virginia more than $1 billion, while nationally the toll exceeds $120 billion. Invasive species damage and degrade crops, pasture and forestlands, clog waterways, spread human and livestock diseases, and destroy street trees. As international trade and travel continue to increase, we face growing ecological and economic threats from invasive species to our farmlands, forests, rivers and streams, and quality of life.
What is Virginia doing?
Across the state, numerous efforts are underway to address the threats posed by invasive species. In 2003, the Virginia Invasive Species Working Group was formed with the purpose of coordinating state agency action to minimize economic, environmental, and human harm from invasive species by acting on the seven goals of coordination, prevention, early detection, rapid response, control, research, and education.
Specific actions taken by state agencies to date in Virginia include:
- The General Assembly established the the Virginia Invasive Species Working Group to coordinate efforts related to invasive species prevention, early detection, rapid response, control, and education.
- the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Forestry, and Cooperative Extension programs are working to slow the spread of the emerald ash borer through ongoing quarantines, surveys, and outreach throughout the state;
- the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries successfully eradicated the state’s first and only known population of zebra mussels at Millbrook Quarry in Prince William County;
- the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is working with Chesapeake Bay watermen to remove the rapa whelk from Bay waters;
- the Department of Conservation and Recreation continues to reduce stands of Phragmites from state parks and natural area preserves;
- the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Forestry, and the USDA-Forest Service cooperate to conduct surveys and treatments designed to suppress or slow the spread of the gypsy moth.
What more can be done?
The most effective strategy against invasive species is to prevent them from being introduced. This requires better monitoring and regulating of the pathways by which invasive species arrive, such as major shipping ports and imports of live plants and animals. Because prevention is not always successful, we must also enhance early detection and rapid response programs designed to eradicate species before they become established. This involves monitoring for the introduction of invasive species and having a coordinated and effective response plan that controls and eradicates the outbreak. Both preventive and rapid response actions require education, a strong commitment of financial resources, and a well-coordinated approach among state, federal and private partners.
Specifically, the Commonwealth of Virginia can do the following to help prevent and slow the spread of new and existing invasive species:
- Support state and federal funding for invasive species monitoring and control efforts.
- Support legislation aimed at preventing the introduction of new invasive species.
- Learn how to recognize invasive species and avoid transporting or purchasing them.
- Learn how you might be unintentionally moving invasive species and take steps to prevent doing so. Two easy actions are to always buy and burn local fire wood locally and always clean boating equipment before transporting your boat to another waterway.
- When landscaping, avoid purchasing invasive plants and consider using native plants.
- Become part of an invasive species early detection network and report sightings of suspected new species invasions.
- Report suspected new invasive species infestations at 1-800-INVADED (486-2333).
Chesapeake Bay Program invasive species
A team of federal, state, and local stakeholders identified six species of interest – mute swan, nutria, purple loosestrife, Phragmites, water chestnut, and zebra mussel – as priorities for management efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.
- Visit Chesapeakebay.net to read more.